Neon Genesis Evangelion is to anime television series what 2001: A Space Odyssey is to feature films: both won popular and critical acclaim and immediately achieved cult classic status; and the fame of both rests not a little upon their utterly incomprehensible endings. But whereas 2001 had one sequel, NGE has spawned a whole host of “revisioning” films, as well as books, manga, video games, and other media. Indeed, the whole NGE franchise has become one tangled web of alternate plotlines and reconfigured relationships that even someone holding a PhD. in quantum mechanics would struggle to understand. Alas for Alexander and the Gordian Knot!
Now the latest edition of the franchise – Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon A Time – has just landed. What does this mean for the story which the whole franchise attempts to tell? What does it imply for any future instalments? Is the whole damned thing just too messy now to make any sense of? Before we can even begin to answer these questions, we need to get the background and core story down pat before we proceed any further.
CAUTION: CONTAINS SPOILERS
The first thing that needs to be understood is that there are two backgrounds to the whole Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise: the esoteric background and the narrative background. There is some overlap between the two, but it is necessary to set out both if the events of the core story and its various endings are to make any sense.
2.1 Esoteric Background
Billions of years ago, an ancient species with hyper-advanced technological capability known as the First Ancestral Race were confronted with extinction and determined to avoid this fate by seeding the universe with life. They achieved this by sending progenitor beings known as the Seeds of Life out into the universe aboard vessels called Moons. Each Moon had a single progenitor being on board; and, to avoid conflict in the event of more than one progenitor arriving on the same world, each Moon was equipped with a weapon called a Spear of Longinus. This Spear would activate to render dormant any progenitor who arrived on a world that had already been inhabited by another Seed of Life.
At some point in the remote past, a progenitor being called Adam arrived at the Earth; at almost the same time, however, another progenitor called Lilith crashed by accident to the earth’s surface. The Spear of Longinus aboard Lilith’s Moon was destroyed; as a result, and in compliance with the instructions programmed into it by the First Ancestral Race, the Spear aboard Adam’s Moon activated and rendered him dormant. Thus it was that Lilith erroneously became the Earth’s Seed of Life, resulting in the Earth eventually being populated by beings (humans) who were Lilith’s descendants, instead of by beings who were the descendants of Adam, as should have been the case.
For millions of years, the Moon which had carried Lilith to Earth lay buried within the planet’s crust; however, shifting tectonic plates resulted in its eventual discovery in the 20th century beneath what is now known as Japan. SEELE (from the German for “soul”), the organisation responsible for the Moon’s discovery, built a research centre around the cavern in which it was enclosed. This facility became the headquarters for SEELE’s research arm, Gehirn (brain), which in time would become the paramilitary organisation, NERV (nerve). The Lilith being was kept in the deepest, most secret part of NERV headquarters as a crucified prisoner.
Some time later, the dormant body of Adam was discovered lying within the frozen wastes of Antarctica, along with the Spear of Longinus by which Adam had been immobilised. Wanting to ensure that both these Seeds of Life did not escape its exclusive control, SEELE sponsored an expedition to Antarctica to recover Adam and bring him out of his dormant state. This was to be done by “diving” human DNA into the body of Adam and causing it to physically fuse.
The expedition ended in catastrophe. The human DNA did indeed fuse with the Adam being, prompting its reanimation. Once revived, however, it immediately attempted to reclaim control of the Earth, forcing the expedition members to use the Spear of Longinus. The result was a cataclysmic explosion which annihilated the members of the expedition, and caused Adam’s body and soul to split. The body was reduced to an embryonic form, while his soul became a “seed”. A SEELE recovery expedition managed to find both the embryonic body and the soul “seed”.
The explosion caused by this second use of the Spear of Longinus became universally known as the Second Impact.
Adam’s embryonic body became the subject of a SEELE project called the Adam Recovery Project, which eventually resulted in the development of huge biomechanical fighting machines called Evangelions, or EVAs, which could only be piloted by specially talented adolescents born after the Second Impact. The “seed” soul was subsequently stolen from SEELE’s European headquarters on the orders of the head of NERV, Dr Gendo Ikari, who had it implanted into his right hand.
After the development of the EVAs, Lilith was used as an endless source for the biofuel by which the EVAs are powered. Initially unknown to SEELE, Ikari also developed an EVA from Lilith’s genetic material.
2.2 Narrative Background
In the year 2000, a cataclysmic event located in Antarctica, subsequently called the Second Impact and widely (though erroneously) believed to have been caused by a meteor strike, devastated the world, causing the planet to tilt on its axis and severely altering weather and climate patterns. In the environmental chaos and wars (both conventional and nuclear) that followed, more than half the Earth’s population – especially in the Southern Hemisphere – was wiped out. Even after global peace was restored under the aegis of United Nations, resource shortages remained severe and life for the survivors continued to be precarious. Nonetheless, countries such as Japan were able to rebuild in significant ways, even going so far as to reconstruct a new capital – Tokyo3 – after the original was destroyed by an H-bomb.
By 2015, global stability had been more or less restored, and something approaching a pre-Impact normality for the world’s citizens – the shortages and climate changes notwithstanding – appeared to be within reach. However, this hard-won peace was threatened by the appearance of vast alien beings called Angels: emitting their own personal force fields, these creatures were impervious to conventional weapons. The only weapon capable of defeating the Angels are the biomechanical EVAs developed by the SEELE organisation. The EVAs which defend Japan are based out of the heavily fortified NERV headquarters, and both the Japanese authorities as well as the UN are heavily dependent on SEELE/NERV to keep the Angels at bay.
Unbeknown to the authorities and to the population at large, however, is the fact that the leadership of SEELE has been awaiting the Angels’ arrival. The Second Impact, which resulted in Adam’s brief re-awakening, has roused the “Children of Adam”, manifestations of the beings who ought to have populated the Earth after Adam’s arrival, but who were erroneously displaced by Lilith’s accidental crash landing on the planet’s surface. It was to combat these beings that the EVAs were especially developed: being genetically derived from Adam, only they have the power to overcome the Angels.
SEELE, however, is running a secret agenda. The purpose of the EVAs is not to defend the Earth; rather, they exist in order to clear the way for a being known as Tabris, the “Final Angel”. Tabris was created through the process of fusing human DNA with the body of Adam; recovered after the Second Impact, SEELE intends to use Tabris to cause a Third Impact and initiate what it calls the Human Instrumentality Project. SEELE is convinced that human evolution has gone astray, and can only be corrected by returning humanity to a primordial, transcendental state from which a single unitary consciousness can be formed. Thus, the human experience of alienation, loneliness, loss, and hostility will be overcome, replaced by a single spiritual being not without the qualities of God. SEELE intends to ensure the Third Impact occurs by using the EVAs to defeat the Angels and prevent them from claiming dominion over Earth, which will in turn enable them to deploy the “final Angel” and precipitate the culmination of their plans.
The director of NERV, Dr Gendo Ikari, however, has other plans. Obsessed with the death of his wife Yui many years before, Ikari plans to hijack the Instrumentality process and use the stolen “seed” soul of Adam implanted in his hand to initiate his own, much more personal, Third Impact. By fusing Adam with Lilith through the medium of a clone of his dead wife, Ikari believes he can initiate an Instrumentality process that, instead of forcing a new stage of evolution upon humanity, will instead result in his eternal unification with Yui. To this end, the EVAs are nothing more than a means to defeat the Angels and create the conditions under which Instrumentality can be achieved on his terms, and not those of SEELE.
3. Core Story
It is in this context that Shinji Ikari, the estranged teenage son of Gendo Ikari, is summoned to NERV headquarters near Tokyo3. Here, he is met by Misato Katsuragi, NERV’s military commander, just as an Angel attacks. Because the only other available EVA pilot, a teenage girl named Rei Ayanami, is in hospital recovering from wounds sustained in an earlier battle, Shinji is forced by his father to pilot an EVA. Untrained, Shinji is overwhelmed; the EVA, without a pilot to control it, goes into berserker mode and destroys the Angel. Despite being traumatised by the experience, Shinji is forced to fight another Angel, which he manages to defeat. He attempts to run away, but after being confronted by Katsuragi, decides to stay and continue piloting EVAs.
Shortly afterwards, Rei recovers from her injuries and returns to duty, and she and Shinji are joined by a new pilot, the talented but arrogant Asuka Langley Sōryu. Asuka, Shinji, and Misato move in together, and despite their ostensible hostility to one another, complicated feelings of attraction begin to develop between Asuka and Shinji. A series of battles follow in which the three teenage pilots, guided by Misato, defeat a number of Angels, and Shinji begins to grow in confidence. The three pilots are joined by a fourth member, Shinji’s former classmate Toji Suzuhara; but at this point, two traumatising events occur. Firstly, Shinji’s EVA is absorbed by an Angel while he is fighting it; he only manages to break free when his EVA goes into berserk mode. The second is the infection of Toji’s EVA by an Angel; Shinji is forced to fight it, with the result that Toji is permanently paralysed.
These events precipitate a series of disasters for the EVA pilots. Asuka is mentally attacked by an Angel, which precipitates her downward spiral into depression. Rei is forced to self-destruct her EVA in order to save Shinji’s life, resulting in her death. Shinji is further traumatised when he and Misato visit Asuka in hospital and she claims she is, in fact, a “third Rei”. This revelation results in a confrontation between Misato and NERV chief scientist, Ritsuko Akagi, who discloses that Rei is in fact a clone of Shinji’s dead mother Yui, and that multiple copies of “Rei” exist. Thus, Dr Ikari’s plans are revealed: he intends to trigger a Third Impact, not through the Final Angel, but by using Rei as the medium through which to affect his planned merging of Adam and Lilith.
By this stage, Shinji has become emotionally scarred and alienated from all the other characters. A new pilot, Kaworu Nagisa, joins the crew and manages to break through Shinji’s shell of isolation and gain his trust. But Kaworu comes to the realisation that he is, in fact, Tabris, the “final Angel”; the human side of his nature realises that if humanity is to survive, he must be destroyed. Accordingly, he forces Shinji to not only fight but also to kill him in order to avoid the Third Impact. Shinji is consumed with guilt as a result.
TO BE CONTINUED
Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.